One of my soul sisters has this amazing hobby of exchanging Wiki pages with her friends for the sake of knowledge exploration. She sent me a wiki page recently which introduced me to a phenomenon, Apophenia. This is defined as the human ability to find meaningful patterns in random data. This theory’s creator, Klaus Conrad, described it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”.
Psychology is very interested in this phenomenon. It is used to discredit that anything in life may be anything other than randomness and that we are the ones who connect these things. They are unconnected otherwise. So a bunch of bad things happening to you in a 24 hour period are all unconnected events, but we call them a “bad day” as if they are all connected.
According to this theory, everything I see as important, vital, and true is all in my head. It is unconnected and a placebo affect that Reiki practices heal. It is unconnected that I see numbers in everyday life and find meaning in them. It is unconnected that I find the patterns and cycles in my life. These things are not actually patterns, but connection made in my own head. We are not connected to each other or any other living organisms. Nothing is connected, in actual reality. We make the connections. They are all in our mind.
I don’t disagree.
“Be the calm in the chaos” is actually a phrase I say often when myself or someone else is in a place of turmoil in life. (I’m sure I heard it from someone much more intelligent and wise than me, but unfortunately I don’t remember who to credit.) I truly see life as the randomness that this theory suggests. Things happen. They just do. These happenings come completely out of left field sometimes and all we can do is deal with them. Our minds, however, are incredibly complex, and frankly, brilliant. Every one of them. They are imaginative and creative, infinite and limitless! They have the incredible ability to see these patterns. They have the ability to make these connections where, quite possibly, they actually don’t exist at all!
I do think the flaw is that this theory is mostly applied to things that seem unreal or abstract to our material, tangible world. I think if a theory is to be applied to one part of society, it should be applied to all aspects. If it does not stand universally, how can it stand at all? (This is, of course, a paradox for this theory– as it denounces connectivity, and for it to apply universally would somehow suggest that all things are connected, which the theory clearly says is not true. Yeah, I see that flaw. Indulge me. Let’s explore.)
So if we can apply this theoretical phenomenon to things like Numerology, spirituality, religion, our own life experiences and beliefs, etc., then we must also be able to apply these things to the less abstract, more tangible. Who is to say that data on a pharmaceutical study is not the exact same thing? Who is to say that psychological researchers are not coming to conclusions they see as fact by these same means? Who is to say that, in a scientific study, the random collections of varying results which leans slightly more one direction than the other is a means of actual proof and not just our brains finding a pattern? And that being said, what is proof in a dimension where Apophenia is absolute truth? Does proof exist in that world?
What if math and science are unconnected? Our greatest method of proof in this tangible world is math, our greatest method of inquiry–science. Humans have developed math and science hand in hand as if they are connected and one can prove the other. But if nothing is actually connected and we are making the connections in our heads and they make sense and work, then why wouldn’t we even consider, that’s possibly all that math and science are? They’re just made up, in our head, based on observations of the material world. They are theoretical. They are one explanation, one perspective of the universe, and that is all.
By this theory, anything and everything could be a placebo affect–even modern, mechanistic medicine.
And that is what I like about the theory.
I believe the placebo affect is a real means of treatment. I believe that all things work because we believe in them and our belief teaches the body to heal itself. Apophenia is another sort of proof, to me, of the Fractal Universe– the possibility of anything being true and possible because the mind projects reality into existence (one aspect of a very complicated theory, but I won’t go into that now).
Alan Watts explains, in one of his lectures, that when we are presented with chaos, we will seek patterns. He actually says that this is the tendency of all of nature and we, being nature, are also prone to this. We see this in the natural world by observance of things such as Devil’s Postpile.
If you haven’t been to Devil’s Postpile, it probably means you’ve also not been to Rainbow Falls or Red’s Meadow. These are all incredibly magical places up near Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra’s. I highly recommend going to visit. Book a campsite in advance though, Mammoth is crazy busy. Lee Vining is a better camp spot if you want to avoid the crowds.
Devil’s Postpile is a cliff of columnar basalt. What this means is that, when you are at the bottom looking up at it, you see columns eroding into a big pile. However, when you are on top of the postpile, you see that almost every column is a hexagon that tiles together with those around it. This natural occurrence is the result of volcanic lava that gathered and cooled relatively evenly over an extended period of time.
A volcanic eruption can be seen as a version of chaos. It certainly is un-orderly, seemingly random, mostly unpredictable. However, the result of that chaos, in this case, is a pattern. So finding the pattern in the randomness is, possibly, not uniquely human. Perhaps its something all of nature does, at times.
Do I see the pattern or did nature create the pattern? Is that pattern in the Postpile a result of the volcano or the cooling air? Is the eruption actually chaos? All questionable, but so is everything else… including this phenomenon itself. After all, to see humans finding patterns is an observed pattern itself. So even this theory is built on a paradox (as I’m finding most things are).
So, is anything really connected or is apophenia the only reality and everything else is delusion? Well, the lucky thing is that it is entirely up to you to decide what this information means in your own life.
Psychologists have concluded that it is beneficial, for the most part. But then, when it comes to the mind, its not always what you think, but how you think it. One article I read about it says, “Rather than merely viewing apophenia as a kind of unfortunate side effect of our cognitive architecture, psychoanalysis pushes us to look at meaning where it seems least obvious. In this way, patternicity is the point, not the problem.” (Psychology Today)
I agree with this idea completely. I have always experienced the chaos and randomness of life with extreme discomfort. Finding patterns and making connections in this life has allowed me to make more sense of that randomness, which allows me to be more at peace when those random things occur. By seeing these patterns I have found purpose and meaning in my life. By thinking the way I do and allowing my brain to do it without self-judgement, I have learned to be creative and expressive and fulfilled.
On a more universal level, connection proves to be a vital part of the Human Experience. As beings, it is a natural instinct for us to connect with other beings. Some of us seek lovers or friends, some seek the presence of trees and nature, some seek the love and loyalty of animals and pets. Even if its all in our heads, it is necessary to the happiness of most of us these days. Otherwise, why would we crave constant connectivity to things like our phones and the internet so much?
The truth is that I have found incredible meaning and purpose in my life by indulging my brain’s ability to connect. At a time when all I could find were excuses to die, believing that everything is connected gave me a reason to live. In fact, it gave me infinite reasons to want to live, forever. I’ve got every thing and every one and every time to connect with!
So, yes, its possible that this theory is the only shared reality and everything orderly in the world is a figment of our individual realities. It’s also possible that we shouldn’t care.
“The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a Reality to be experienced.” -Aart Van Der Leeuw